|Alex was a different child at home than in public. I knew this was normal, but she seemed to take it to the extreme. I altered an old nursery rhyme about her.
When she was good, she was very, very good. And when she was bad, she was at home.
It’s the reason that mental illness never seemed a possibility. I thought if she was able to control her outbursts then it was just Alex being Alex. Maybe if I had realized sooner and gotten her help, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Or have fought so many different battles, never to have anyone win the war.
Food has always been an issue, but it has changed drastically over the years.
The first evening together, I fixed spaghetti. When I told Alex dinner was ready, she sat on the floor by the table. It took some coaxing to get her in the chair. Even then, she just stared at my husband and me eating.
“Alex, don’t you like spaghetti?”
She nodded her head.
“Why aren’t you eating?”
I could tell she was uncomfortable.
“I eat what’s left on your plate.”
My husband looked at me unsure of what to do.
“Baby, this is your plate.” I motioned to the food in front of her.
“Mine?” she asked surprised.
“Yes, you have your own plate.”
Afraid that it would somehow disappear, she dug in with both hands disregarding the silverware. When the plate was empty, we watched her lower her face and lick the plate, almost like a dog. Neither my husband nor I said anything then about her table manners. We were both in too much shock.
For the next few years, Alex would hoard food. She would hide it throughout the house. If there was only one of something left, like the last cookie, she ate it. And she would eat anything I put in front of her, except hot dogs. I later discovered from talking to her past social worker that she had been given so many spoiled ones that she had ended up in the hospital twice with food poisoning. Being allowed to only eat scraps off the adults’ plates made it understandable that she would stockpile food.
What didn’t make sense to us was when Alex reached about eleven-years-old, she practically quit eating. She became extremely picky and defiant about food. The more we pushed, the less she ate. Deciding it was attention-getting behavior, we pretended to ignore it. It only made it worse. Alex was always extremely petite, and now she was losing pounds her body couldn’t afford to lose. Afraid of anorexia, I looked into counseling.
Alex was appalled by the idea. I told her she needed to eat, or we were getting help. It didn’t work. She said if I took her to counseling she wouldn’t talk. My faith in the experts outweighed my belief that she would keep her threat. I was wrong, again.
We took her for months to different psychologists and psychiatrists. She never said a word. She just sat staring right in their eyes for an hour at a time. Not a one, even budged her. Though she appeared not to be in the room mentally, she was listening. She would throw their words back in my face.
“Jane, they said as long as I didn’t get below seventy pounds, I didn’t need to be hospitalized. It’s my body and my choices. I just don’t like much food. Lay off of me about it!”
Her willpower and manipulation of her own body were so strong that she stayed at exactly seventy-one pounds for longer than I care to admit.
We stopped going to counseling. It seemed a waste. If she wasn’t ready to talk, the doctors even admitted they couldn’t help her. This is just one of the many times Alex won the battle.
This wasn’t the first we’d seen of her stubborn streak and amazing willpower.
I remember the first summer she was with us, she was jumping on our old, beaten-up, leather couch. I think she was even singing. I felt happy watching her joy. Suddenly, she jumped and slipped at the same time, knocking her chin on a nearby coffee table. For parents, the moments when you are waiting to see if your child is hurt are like time standing still. My heart dropped to my stomach as I waited for the tears, screaming, sobbing. Nothing happened. She just looked at me with wide eyes. I knew it had to hurt; I’d heard the thud of her chin on the wood. At first I thought she was afraid of getting in trouble.
I went to her. “Alex, are you okay, baby?”
She nodded her head. I could already see the discoloration forming on her chin. As I was examining it, she stuck out her tongue and blood came pouring out. She had bit through it. And yet not a tear escaped. Not the entire time I iced it, or when the doctor looked at it, or when it swelled to the point of her having trouble drinking. We were amazed.
Having raised three children, I know the variance of pain levels. But this was a new definition of tough. My husband bragged on her ability to handle pain. He’s a man whose motto in life is: “The tougher it is, the better I like it.” Or so he claims.
We quit retelling the coffee table story, when we noticed the look that came over Alex’s eyes. It wasn’t just pride, it was a dark, eerie stare.
Tucking her in one night, I said, “Alex, you know it is okay to cry, right?”
The look that gave my skin goose bumps came over her face again. “I don’t cry.”
And she didn’t. I never saw a single tear shed, not for physical or emotional pain, nothing. . . until the summer of her fifteenth birthday.
Link to Chapter 4